You Can Not Find What You Are Not Looking For

Most people in the United States are aware that children are being exploited for commercial sex. Rhonda and I have delved into the reality and provided solid prevention and identification strategies in past columns with great responses.  When I ask audiences about child victims of labor trafficking, there’s very little response. Very few are looking for children who are being exploited for labor.  International studies have provided evidence that while 22% of all trafficking victims are trafficked for sex, 68% are trafficked for labor.  Further, 1 in 4 of those labor trafficking victims are children (UNODC). When I talk about that, I’m often faced with what feels like apathy. Just like when we first started talking about child sex trafficking, there was a sense that it happened “over there” not here in our own backyard. 

We are beginning to wake up. I recorded a podcast (153) a few years ago about a national study in the US on homeless youth and reported that 1 in 8 trafficking victims was trafficked for labor. Some were selling magazines door to door, others were in domestic servitude or washing dishes in a restaurant. “Nearly one in five (19.4%) of the 911 interviewed youth were victims of human trafficking, with 15% having been trafficked for sex, 7.4% trafficked for labor and 3% trafficked for both.

Recently, the State of California has launched a project, Preventing and Addressing Child Trafficking (PACT) through the Child and Family Policy Institute of California. They produced a Child Labor Trafficking Mini Desk Guide (2020) to improve our ability to identify and serve child labor trafficking victims right here in our own backyard. There are those who still wonder if it is a significant problem. 

Our National Human Trafficking hotline (888-3737-888) reports receiving calls that youth under the age of 18 are being labor trafficked in multiple industries including: 

Peddling and Begging 
Domestic Work 
Traveling Sales Crews 
Restaurants and Food Services 

They also report that some young victims are trafficked for both labor and sex in 

Bars, Clubs and Cantinas 
Illicit Massage
Health & Beauty 
Illicit (criminal) Activities 

Those working with children as teachers, child welfare social workers, foster youth workers, and even volunteers can learn what questions to ask to help identify labor trafficking victims. 

These example questions from the HTIAM-14 assesstment tool are categorized by using the elements of Force, Fraud, and Coercion. 


Have you ever worked in a place that made you feel scared or unsafe? 


Have you ever been tricked or forced into doing any kind of work that you did not want to do? 


Have you ever worked for someone who did not let you contact your friends or family, or the outside world, even when you were not working? 

Another aspect of child labor trafficking includes the trafficking of Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM).  Case workers may inadvertently be part of a youth’s story when they process them and close the case when the youth is placed with a “family member” as a safe placement. Familial trafficking or fraudulent claims of family relationships make this a precarious situation for youth people.  In a federal case, a 16 year old was trafficked to work seven days a week on an egg ranch in Ohio.  He did not attend school, so the double tragedy is not only the slave-like conditions, but the loss of a future without an education. 

I highly recommend that you visit PACT’s Website to learn more about the various tools that can assist in identification of child labor trafficking victims. We are like a sleeping giant waking up to another abuse of our children.

I have to ask, are children who are exploited for profit any less significant when they are labor trafficking victims than when they are sex trafficking victims?  Let’s start looking for them!